The bathroom was my hiding place as a passive teenage girl. Not just when I needed time to myself on lonely nights. I used the bathroom as an escape during dates, when the situation rose beyond my control.
On a date at my house in the spring of 1994, my boyfriend scooted closer and closer toward me as we watched a movie. Though we had dated for months, we hadn’t really touched each other yet, and I was afraid. I stuffed myself into a corner of the couch, worried sick about the prospect of his arm around me. When he eventually stretched his arm out, I jumped to my feet and said, “I’ll be right back.” Then I sat in the bathroom for ten minutes, trying to get my breathing under control. When I came out, he had scooted over so far that I had no choice other than to touch him by sitting down. So I chose the recliner instead, realizing he would be disappointed. But he didn’t challenge me. He sighed and we watched the movie in silence.
On prom night, we met another couple for photos and dinner first. At his buddy’s house when he embraced me intimately for a photo, I panicked and ran to their bathroom. I felt violated and trapped. I didn’t know what to do. If I brought up how he had crossed a line without my consent, it would ruin the evening before it even began. So I stuffed my feelings and proceeded with the evening. On the ride to the restaurant he asked me, “Are you sure everything is okay?” And I demurred, afraid an honest response would ignite a fire. “Yep,” I replied, burying my anger.
At prom I ran to the bathroom again, my anger irrepressible by that point. He had obviously planned to show me off that evening, and I wasn’t prepared for the falsehood. Our relationship was a sham and I couldn’t pretend anymore. I was so angry at him for touching me that I carefully considered how I could sneak out and walk home. Eventually I realized I couldn’t escape without someone noticing my fancy clothes, so I reluctantly scratched the idea. That’s how frustrated I felt about the evening. I wanted to escape, to run out the back door, to disappear.
When he pulled me close against my will while dancing, I knew the end was near. I would only have to endure the rest of the dance and then our relationship would be over. I dreaded a scene on the dance floor, pushing him away with both hands and becoming a spectacle. So I paid the price and barely held my tears back. I had no escape, nowhere to hide for those few tortured moments.
That night was a testament to the cost of my passivity. I feared conflict so badly that I violated my own standards to keep the “peace.” This unhealthy dynamic had haunted me for years, and it haunted me for many more until I learned that I could speak up for myself and not passively endure mistreatment.
In Happiness is a Choice, Meier and Minirth talk about passivity:
A depressed individual tends to become passive. He lets others run over him. He simply takes it and turns inward, becoming bitter and depressed…The healthy balance is to be assertive. To be assertive is to express in love and in a tactful way how we feel. To be assertive is to keep others from being irresponsible, especially when it concerns us and relates to us.
I had to learn that I was worth protecting. I was worth defending. I was worth cherishing. I didn’t feel that way growing up as a child of divorce. I felt abandoned, unprotected, not special enough to garner attention. Stuck in emotional survival mode of taking whatever love I could get, even though I was letting others tread on me like a doormat.
When my sense of self-worth was restored through my relationship with God, I began to realize that I needed to protect and defend it. I had to learn to be assertive and speak out against sin others inflicted upon me. I couldn’t afford to hide any longer if I wanted to be the strong, capable woman that God called me to be.
I don’t hide in bathrooms anymore. When conflict arises, I calmly deal if it warrants a confrontation. This has taken years of practice. The girl I was in the high school gymnasium bathroom on prom night didn’t know she had the right and the power to speak up. But I know now, and I think I’m making that young girl inside very proud.
Have you ever paid a high price for passivity? In what ways have you been assertive that paid off for your self-worth?
Copyright 2016 Sarah Geringer